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African Turtle Newsletter: MTCA in Gabon

For a long time now many of us have been discussing the need for a newsletter on sea turtle research and conservation in the African continent. The Kudu Newsletter for Atlantic Africa had a rather short lifespan because the effort and sweat that went into compiling information and producing a newsletter became rather daunting for anyone to undertake and sustain. Now, thanks to the support and encouragement from Michael Coyne, we have a blog page for Africa which will serve as the African Turtle Newsletter. We hope that people working on sea turtles on this extraordinary continent will share their stories, opinions, concerns, and projects with the rest of the sea turtle community through this online "newsletter." We will encourage submissions in different languages—French, English, Spanish, Portuguese—so that all feel welcome to share their news and views.

As the opening piece to this newsletter, I thought I would share some recent, important developments in Gabon, which supports one of the largest leatherback nesting beaches in the world along with the Guianas, and introduce you to some of the important players in this country.


MTCA in Gabon
In 2005, the Marine Turtle Conservation Act (MTCA) funded its first projects, among which was the Gabon Leatherback Project.

Many different groups are involved with sea turtle research and conservation in Gabon: the government body Conseil National des Parcs Nationaux (CNPN); the local NGOs—Aventures Sans Frontières (ASF), Gabon Environnement, and Ibonga; the European Union program—PROTOMAC (Protection des Tortues Marines d’Afrique Centrale), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Part of the 2005 funding received from the MTCA was used by Angela Formia (in the photo below) to organize and run the first meeting for the “Partenariat pour les Tortues Marines au Gabon.” (= Partnership for sea turtle conservation in Gabon) in early September 2005. The rest of the funding was allocated to aerial surveys.

This meeting was necessary to establish greater interaction among the different groups and to form a cohesive partnership so that sea turtle conservation and research in Gabon can be done more effectively and in a less-fragmented manner. This partnership combines the efforts, expertise and initiatives of all project partners within a common framework of collaboration and cooperation.

The meeting opened with a speech from Solange Ngouessono, Conservator of the National Park of Mayumba and the National Focal Point for whales and sea turtles—she provided a brief chronological description of the evolution of sea turtle work in Gabon and highlighted her expectations for this 3-day workshop:

Franck Ndjimbi, Director of Communication of the CNPN (far right) thanked all the groups for attending and expressed the hope that a national strategy for the conservation of sea turtles in Gabon would be developed with contribution from all the partners. The Direction Générale des Eaux et Forêts (Ministry for Water and Forests) was also present.

Several presentations followed:
Earl Possardt of the US Fish and Wildlife Service gave a short presentation on the Marine Turtle Conservation Act:

Sandrine Ricois and Dominique Roumet (1st and 2nd from left) from the NGO Gabon Environnment described their sea turtle monitoring work on the beaches of Pongara and Mayumba. Alain Gibudi (3rd from left) and Alexis Billes (far right) of PROTOMAC presented their program and the Central African regional database they manage. Jacques Fretey of Programme KUDU and IUCN-France( 2nd from right) described the development of the West African sea turtle network.

Jean-Pierre Baye from the NGO Ibonga (1st from left) talked about the activities and goals of the project on the nesting beach of Gamba, and Bas Verhage (2nd from left) from WWF-Gabon described three years (2002-2005) of sea turtle monitoring in the Gamba Complex of Protected Areas:

Guy-Phillipe Sounguet (2nd from left) from the NGO Aventures Sans Frontières listed the current conservation, research, and education/outreach activities of their programs. Rich Parnell (1st from right) from the Wildlife Conservation Society gave a talk on marine threats to sea turtles in Gabon, and highlighted accidental capture in commercial fisheries by trawlers and longliners, accidental and intentional captures in artisanal fisheries, and pollution by debris, petroleum and seismic activities.

Clement Moukoula (1st from left) from Operation Loango of WCS-Gabon described sea turtle work on their stretch of beach. I (2nd from right) gave an overview of Peter Dutton’s leatherback genetics study in the Atlantic using mitochondrial and microsatellite markers and discussed the need to evaluate accidental captures in the fisheries.

Others at the meeting included:
The Conservators of the many parks in Gabon,

Maurice Moukekou of the Direction Générale de la Pêche et de l’Aquaculture which is the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture (in discussion here with Rich Parnell),

the Centre National des Données et de l’Information Océanographique (CNDIO = National Center for Oceanographic Information and Data),

Sharon Deem from the Smithsonian Institute and Lee White from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Invitees from neighboring countries included Hilde Vanleeuwe from WCS in the Republic of Congo (seen here with Rich Parnell of WCS-Gabon (center) and Bas Verhage of WWF-Gabon)

as well as Rigoberto Esono from Equatorial Guinea ( immersed in a conversation with Earl Possardt) from the Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo Forestal y Gestión del Sistema de Areas Protegidas (INDEFOR).

The Chief of the Benga tribe in Northern Gabon (1st from right), Christian Mombet, was present and raised the issue of whether the Benga people should consume turtle meat. The discussion that ensued centered around finding alternatives, identifying the number of turtles that could be taken, condemning the accidental capture of turtles by trawlers, but generally emphasized the need to preserve traditional ways of the Benga.

Others who were present, but of whom we unfortunately don't have photographs included representatives of the Direction Générale de l’Environnement (Ministry of Environment) , Direction de la Recherche Scientifique (Ministry of Scientific Research) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique et Technologique (National Center for Scientific Research and Technology).

Discussions ensued about the major threats and problems at the nesting beaches as well as organization and structure of the collaborative network and data management. Scientific and logistics committees and several task forces were created to address various issues and to work within a common administration system. This meeting was a major step forward in collaborative sea turtle work in Gabon.

The meeting ended with Earl Possardt and Solange Ngouessono receiving “I love the turtles of Gabon” T-shirts:


Félicitations, le texte est bien illustré par les photos. Nous espèrons avoir de telle manifestation au Maroc étant donné que ce dernier dispose 3500 Km de côtes !!